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INBOUND Goes Virtual: 2020 Recap

INBOUND is a massive, multi-day marketing conference hosted by HubSpot in Boston, MA with intentions of inspiring the national business community. What makes INBOUND so special is their effort to create a hands-on experience for attendees. Sessions like Breakout, Deep Dives, and Spotlight are just a few attendee-favorites, keeping them entertained and eager to return each year. 

As with most things today, HubSpot adjusted their 2020 program to cater to the coronavirus pandemic. An expert from a letter from the INBOUND team, “In light of the COVID-19 health crisis and to prioritize the well being and safety of our attendees, community, and the residents of Boston, we are making changes to the INBOUND 2020 experience. For the first time in our 9-year history, INBOUND will not host an in-person experience. Instead, we are creating a new immersive online experience that will take place over the course of two days: September 22 & 23, 2020.” In alignment with their statement, INBOUND 2020 went completely virtual – taking over Zoom and offering quite the online experience. 

Not only did going remote widen the demographic of attending guests, but also proved attendee loyalty. INBOUND 2020 counted over 69,000 guests and welcomed an impressive roster of featured speakers from Kerry Washington to John Legend. Having pushed through the pandemic leaving attendees hungry for next year’s showdown, here are INBOUND 2020’s biggest moments.

What They Got Right

New to 2020, and perhaps the coolest part about being an inbounder, were the custom-made gift boxes sent to select attendees. Here’s a glimpse of what was inside mine:

(Photo Credit: Brian Wallace)

These were perhaps the most thoughtful, non-disposable gifts I’ve received from a brand. The candle smells amazing, my admission ticket was personalized, and I’m making the most out of my webcam cover.  While not everyone received a gift box, sending a gift box ahead of time with some practical and cheerful swag made attendees feel at home. This helped set the mood for a better than normal Zoom experience. 

What They Got Wrong

The real magic is behind networking; yet, I found most networking (i.e., LinkedIn handle swaps) took place off-platform. In previous years, INBOUND has done a great job of prioritizing interactive mingling. This year, not so much.

Since the event was virtual, I was able to pop in and out throughout the day. More common than not, there wasn’t something I wanted to see going on when I logged in. Generally speaking, I found directions to be unclear, never making it intuitive where I should go.

Built-in reminders may be helpful in the future. This way, attendees won’t have to struggle with self-navigating through the program. By reminding attendees to join in on interactive sessions, networking can truly thrive. 

An additional tip is to arrange for all attendees to be greeted with gifts. Receiving my gift box really built up my momentum for INBOUND, which is something all attendees should experience.

Observations from Attendees and Presenters

Some quotes from the good and bad from the crowd:

“What I love the most about the #INBOUND2020 virtual conference is the live Q&A with the speakers,” reported speaker Ai Addyson-Zhang. At the time of the Inbound conference, we are six months into a devastating global pandemic. I think everyone is tremendously missing the vibe that we get from in-person events. With that, the live Q&A with the speakers makes you feel connected to one another in a relatively more intimate setting. The live Q&A also gives you a stronger sense of belonging — you, the speaker, and the other attendees have co-created a space together. That co-creation is what makes an event memorable and remarkable.” Addyson-Zhang is also the Founder of Classroom Without Walls, offering life accelerator programs for young professionals to future-proof their careers.

AJ Wilcox, INBOUND speaker and Founder of B2Linked, reported a grand time. “I got to present on advanced LinkedIn Ads,” Wilcox stated, “and I was most struck by the amazing engagement in the chat and Q&A, as well as the feedback I received over Twitter during and after the session. It was inspiring to see so many hungry marketers who are pushing the limits of their understanding and are tackling big things. My takeaway is to reinvigorate my hunger for learning like these incredible and energetic Inbound attendees!” Of course, Wilcox wasn’t the only speaker who had a pleasant experience.

(Photo Credit: Michaela Alexis)

Michaela Alexis, a Linkedin trainer and coach, was another INBOUND speaker. After the event, Alexis was asked her biggest takeaway, responding, “That it is possible to create a unique, personal experience virtually! I was blown away by how real it felt to be on a virtual stage as a speaker and loved how they focused on conversational sessions instead of traditional breakouts.” 

On the contrary, Md. Golam Murshed, SEO expert and Team Leader at Digital Aider, had a significantly unique INBOUND 2020 experience as it was his first. Reflecting on his experience, Murshed said, “INBOUND 2020 was my first INBOUND . I [was] just introduced with INBOUND this year and linked with some interesting people.” 

Chris Schembra, author of Gratitude and Pasta: The Secret Sauce for Human Connection, Forbes’ #2 book to create connection, was fascinated by the humanitarian efforts behind this year’s INBOUND event. “While the world is on fire around us, 69,000 people took a moment to pause, learn, and reflect.  The overall good that will come from Inbound’s attendees leveling up will be immeasurable to our industry.  Biggest takeaway is that there is hope for a more connected and together future of leaders, thanks to inbound.”

The Future of Events?

Many are unsure of what the future holds for in-person events, given that SXSW has just announced SXSW 2021 online, tradeshow giant Freeman getting into virtual events and the like, it was refreshing to see a Zoom alternative by the INBOUND crew.  Like anything new, there are always bumps in the road to progress.  See you online!